Charles Callahan (NTHS '61)

Charles Callahan Before there was a North Thurston Public Schools district, there were just two country schools: South Bay Elementary and Lacey Elementary. Older students in the area went to neighboring Olympia High School and skeptics scoffed at the idea that a rural district could provide a high-quality education.

Then came a teacher and WWII Marine veteran from Massachusetts with a vision for something bigger and a passion for public education who defied the urban naysayers and founded a district that grew to 10 schools in less than 20 years. That man was Charles Callahan, the first Superintendent at North Thurston Public Schools.

“He did everything: he created the lunch menus, planned the bus routes, and designed the curriculum,” said Callahan’s daughter Cathy, who graduated from North Thurston High School in 1967. She and her brother, Chuck (NTHS Class of 1961) have returned to live in the district. Cathy has fond memories of her father’s passion for giving local students the best possible public education while being very accountable with his budget

Cathy remembers one summer weekend before North Thurston High School opened, a prospective teacher named Ed Bettine came by the brand new school to check it out as a potential place to work. He encountered a man in overalls planting flowers in front of the school. The “janitor” showed him around the school and the two chatted at length. “Come to find out it was my Dad who was planting the flowers,” she said with a smile. “He subsequently hired the teacher..who was beloved and taught shop."

Charles Callahan at a build site holding plans. Vernon Whitney, a former NTPS teacher who became the first principal at Lydia Hawk Elementary in 1959, also recalls the passion “Cal” had for the schools and staff.

“He was a terrific Superintendent who hired me after I got out of the service and eventually encouraged me to get my administrative credentials,” said Whitney. “He could be very frugal but you got your money’s worth out of him. He did all the hiring himself!”

Cathy Callahan fondly remembers her Dad’s “teacher trips” and his desire to attract the highest-quality educators for local students.

“He would get in this old blue U.S. Navy surplus car twice a year and drive to every college in the state looking for the best teachers to recruit to his district.” During his tenure, the number of teachers increased nearly 10 times – from 36 to 337!

She also remembers her “Yankee” father taking great care in practicing the pronunciation of every student’s name before graduation because he “believed it important that students’ names be pronounced correctly on such an auspicious occasion.”

“Teachers and students really liked him,” recalls Cathy of her Dad. He was very approachable, went to every PTA meeting in the district, and ate lunch every day in a different school cafeteria. “I think he’d be really pleased with the growth and direction of the district today.”

Callahan passed away in 1997, but his memory lives on in the 22 schools and nearly 15,000 students in NTPS today!

“He was honest and supportive and gave you the authority to be responsible for your work,” said Whitney, the former principal. “He was a first-class guy in my book!”